The Next Generation of Top Research Talent

Carley Richards, The Royal Ottawa Institute for Mental Health Research

The Next Generation of Top Research Talent

Ontario Research Hospitals make our province and our health system smarter by attracting, training and retaining the next generation of health care professionals. Carley Richards, a trainee at The Royal, shares her experience diving into mental health research.

Meet Carley Richards

Throughout her teenage years, Carley Richards struggled with feeling depressed.

It wasn’t until her second year of university that she was actually diagnosed with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She finally had a piece of paper, with a diagnosis, that proved it wasn’t just “in her head.”

It was a change that would have a huge impact on her academic career.

“The brain is like a big unknown body of water that we’re only just dipping our toes into,” says Richards. “I realized the more we learn about and understand the brain, the more we’ll be able to help people like me.”

The Gut and the Brain

Now working toward a master’s degree in neuroscience at Carleton University, Richards is a research trainee under the supervision of Dr. Marie-Claude Audet, a researcher at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR). She recently won a Graduate Student Research Award from the IMHR.

“Recent research has shown that people with depression have different bacteria in their digestive system than people without depression,” says Richards.

The goal of her research is to look at the microbiome of two different groups of people — those who have depressive symptoms and those who do not. She’s hoping to link trauma in a person’s life to changes in gut bacteria, and explore whether changes in gut bacteria are associated with depressive symptoms.

Life as a Young Researcher

“As a young researcher paying for my own education, I need funding to conduct my research, which means I need to apply for grants and scholarships,” she says.

“It can take a lot of time, and unfortunately for young researchers, there’s a lot of competition and rejection. It can be really tough to stay in research.”

The funding from the IMHR Graduate Student Research Award is helping Richards push her research project forward.

“When you’re stressed, your body releases certain chemicals,” she says. “I’m using this funding to purchase a lab kit that measures a specific binding agent that connects those stress chemicals to the bacteria in the gut.” By using this lab kit, it will be possible for Richards to measure those connections.

“We’re a long way from understanding the brain, but imagine if we could treat symptoms of depression by treating specific bacteria in your gut,” says Richards. “We’re not there yet, but it’s exciting to know I’m contributing to that possibility.”

The Graduate Student Research Awards are funded by The Royal’s Foundation. They fund research and education experiences for young researchers as they work to make a difference in the lives of people living with mental illness.


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The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.

Research Spotlight: The Royal

Research Spotlight: The Royal

Similar early risk factors found for sexual and violent non-sexual offenders

Feature Photo: Kelly Babchishin, lead author of the ground-breaking new study

Sex offenders and violent non-sexual offenders’ birth and parent risk factors are more alike than they are different, according to a ground-breaking new study from The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) and the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).

The study, “Parental and Perinatal Risk Factors for Sexual Offending in Men: A Nationwide Case-Control Study,” was recently published in Psychological Medicine, a prestigious and frequently cited scientific journal.

“A breadth of evidence suggests the factors around our birth and the characteristics of our parents are important predictors of a wide range of later life outcomes,” says the paper’s main author, Dr. Kelly Babchishin of The Royal’s IMHR, affiliated with the University of Ottawa. “We found that birth factors and parental characteristics similarly predict both sexual and violent non-sexual offenders.

Dr. Kelly Babchishin recently received a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as the John Charles Polanyi Prize for young researchers.

Gathering the evidence: collaborating with international partners

Through collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet, this research used Sweden’s detailed national registries giving Babchishin and her five fellow researchers, including Dr. Michael Seto, IMHR’s Director of Forensic Mental Health Research, access to a huge volume of accurate data for this study. The researchers looked at birth factors (such as birth weight and size) and parental factors (such as parents’ age, education level, past history of mental illness, and criminal history) for 13,773 male sexual offenders, 135,953 male violent non-sexual offenders, and a control group of more than 740,000 men.

Ground-breaking findings challenge current theories

“There’s considerable overlap in the factors that increase one’s chance of committing sexual offences or violent non-sexual offences. Surprisingly, we did not find risk factors that were unique to sexual offending in this particular study,” says Babchishin, noting that Canadian and Swedish demographics, crime rates and other indicators are similar enough to expect the results to be applicable in Canada.

“The results were very surprising because most theories, public policies and treatments for sexual offending assume this is a unique form of crime and that unique factors must be involved,” says Seto.

The main predictors of future violent criminality, sexual or otherwise, are having young parents with criminal records, psychiatric issues, or lower education; and indicators of poor maternal health, such as low birth weight.

This means interventions tackling maternal health and parent resources could result in fewer offences of both kinds.

Towards a path for prevention

“The purpose of the research is not to stigmatize, but to know what to focus on when it comes to preventing sexual violence from occurring in the first place,” Babchishin says. “These findings suggest prevention efforts aimed at increasing parental education and helping parents cope with mental health problems, as well as maternal health initiatives, could not only reduce sexual offending, but violent offending as well.”

Babchishin is a joint post-doctoral fellow with IMHR and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. Last year, she received a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as the John Charles Polanyi Prize for young researchers. The study team included researchers from The Royal’s IMHR, the Karolinska Institutet, and the University of Oxford.

Seto says there are more studies in the works to better understand what causes people to commit sexual offences. “This study is the first of a number of planned collaborations that will look at risk factors for sexual offending, across the lifespan, in order to better understand its causes,” he says.
“We hope the results will make important contributions to how we respond to sexual offending.”


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The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.

Health & Community Leaders Talk: George Weber

Ontario's health research hospitals make our province healthier, wealthier, and smarter

Health & Community Leaders Talk: George Weber

By George Weber, President and CEO of The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group

Weber, George_The Royal

What does health research mean to you?

Research is vitally important in the mental health field because of a growing gap between the number of available specialized clinicians and the significant increases in people with treatment-resistant mental illnesses who require care that is both more effective and more efficient.

Mental health receives only about five per cent of medical research dollars, despite the fact mental illness is the No. 1 medical condition in terms of the years lost to disability, economic and social costs confronting Canadians; costing more than heart disease, pulmonary diseases and cancers combined.

Research plays a key role in discovering how to better manage symptoms of those with significant and/or chronic mental illness. For example, I am confident The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre, which features a new PET/fMRI scanner, will help us understand how the brain works and ultimately move toward more accurate diagnoses, new treatment protocols and more personalized treatments to help these individuals improve.

The work being done by researchers and clinicians can only lead to a deeper understanding of the brain, and what happens when brain circuits go awry.

The goal, ultimately, is helping people with mental illness to return to productive and fulfilling lives.

Read Rachel Scott-Mignon’s Patients + Research blog post on The Royal’s new PET/fMRI scanner to learn more.


How does health research contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario?

It is estimated that the direct and indirect cost of mental illness to the Canadian economy is approximately $51 billion. Some put it at $38 billion for Ontario alone. Contributing to that is that in any given week, at least 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems and one in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem during their life.

As one of Canada’s foremost mental health teaching and research hospitals, The Royal combines the delivery of specialized mental health care, advocacy, research and education to improve the lives of people with complex and treatment-resistant mental illness.

Mental health research being done here and in other centres will help improve treatments rates, and will have a profound impact on creating a healthier, wealthier and smarter Ontario.

We have seen progress but there is still a long way to go. While advances have been made in the treatment of mental illness, it is still a matter of trial and error in many cases, with clinicians trying one approach after the other until something works. Research will take us to the next level, allowing for new, personalized treatment to help people manage symptoms sooner.

And, simply put, that means people can lead more productive lives, working and taking an active role in the community, all of which contributes to the prosperity of Ontario.



Read more Health and Community Leaders Talk posts here, and share your own insights about the value of health research on Twitter with our hashtag, #onHWS.

To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter, check out our website and our other blog posts and videos.


Patients + Research: Rachel Scott-Mignon

Patients + Research is a platform for patients to discuss their relationship and experience with the research that leads to new cures, cares and treatments.

Patients + Research: Rachel Scott-Mignon


I wish for the day when my mental illness goes into remission for good
By Rachel Scott-Mignon

Rachel Scott-Mignon, The Royal

It has been 10 years now since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Getting the diagnosis, after having suffered with symptoms for most of my life, was a relief. But, even so, it has remained a struggle. There’s no denying it; treatment has been rough.

And I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.  I have had the good fortune to have had the support of my family and of multiple skilled and compassionate psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, dieticians, and nurses.

My journey has been immense. I have been prescribed more than 30 medications over the years. It remains a system of trial-and-error. I have travelled to the United States to obtain the latest medications. On top of battling the symptoms of my illness (anxiety, depression, mania, an eating disorder and episodes of self harm) I have suffered from numerous side effects caused by the medications, ranging from nausea to a frightening seizure. I have undergone electro-convulsive therapy several times. I’ve been hospitalized more times than I can count, most often at The Royal and, most recently, for 3 weeks this past winter.

But there is hope. The Royal is a special place. The wonderful staff, the progressive culture, and the constant drive to break new ground through research, all serve to give patients like me hope for a brighter future. I know what a difference it could make in my life to have improved diagnostic tools and new treatments to help me get better faster. The acquisition of The Royal’s new brain-imaging machine and the research that it will enable at the Institute of Mental Health Research is such exciting news for me and many of the patients who rely on treatment to get and stay well. I can’t tell you how much I wish for the day when my mental illness goes into remission for good! This could well be another step toward that day.

I’m aware that this new opportunity for insight into the mind that the PET/fMRI machine brings to The Royal was made possible through support from the Ottawa community and for that I am grateful. Because of the compassion and the dedication of the team at The Royal, I have hope. I know I am not alone in this struggle.


If you would like to participate in the Patients + Research blog series, please email or call Elise Bradt at, 416-205-1469, or tweet us at @CAHOhospitals.

Stay tuned on our blog for more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about why health research matters for Ontario and how you can support it, download the Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Policy Platform and check out our other blog posts and videos.


HWS Field Trips: Ottawa

HWS Field Trips: Ottawa

Touring Ottawas Research Hospitals

Research hospitals play a leading role in making Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter. To demonstrate the world-class research happening across our province, we kicked off our newest series, HWS Field Trips. Our first stop? The nation’s capital! We got a behind-the-scenes look at some of the research labs at the Bruyère Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, The Royal Ottawa, Montfort Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

Continue reading “HWS Field Trips: Ottawa”